Idalia Adan recounted the assembly process with intense detail. To her, and her husband and business partner Yasin Abdelsalam, the work is deeply personal.
During COVID-19, the industrial machines of the couple’s embroidery and silkscreen business, Beyond the Seams, are no longer fabricating the visions of the neighborhood’s budding fashion designers. For now, it’s face masks.
Each stitch is programmed by a software Abdelsalam found online. After cutting fabric and pleating, comes many mechanical adjustments. Then, it’s time to add the strings. Not just any strings, but elastic-based connectors, which are much more durable and adjustable, Adan said.
Lastly, it’s over to Facebook groups, Instagram and online neighborhood hubs like Nextdoor. That’s where Adan will find who needs one, or a few, only asking a donation in return.
The orders have come from as far as a woman from California. After explaining to Adan how hard masks are to come by on the West Coast and her recent job loss, two masks made their way to the woman from the couple’s Philadelphia store, free-of-charge.
“We just wanted to help in the smallest way possible,” Adan said.
It’s with that same sense of benevolence and community that Adan and Abdelsalam opened the small storefront two years ago after a knock on the door. The landlord was renting the space below their apartment and asked if they knew anyone who might be interested.
Going into business was a long-term dream of the couple. Adan, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, had studied interior design in school; Abdelsalam, who was born in Egypt and raised in Philadelphia, studied graphic design and had worked for another embroidery shop.
Beyond the Seams became a blend of their interests. Its main revenue comes from screenprinting and embroidery services, which Abdelsalam oversees, but the store also functions as a community space, hosting spoken word poetry events and a gallery for neighborhood artists, which Adan manages.
COVID-19 shuttered their workshop and event space. The couple continued to produce products which could be picked up safely, but the virus forced the cancellation of many of their clients’ events, and therefore, their orders.
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“We had so many bills,” Adan said, listing off costs like electricity and rent.
To make ends meet, they turned to resources from the Fairmount CDC, which directed them to The Merchant’s Fund, an organization which provides grants to local, independent micro-businesses where the entire household income comes from the business. Founded in 1854 by merchants to support other merchants during times of financial hardship, during COVID-19 TMF has pivoted to emergency grants in the amount of $5,000 to support businesses in need.
“I’ve been really inspired by the number of businesses that I’ve seen who are struggling and they’re coming to us because they need money, and at the same time their focus isn’t just on them, it’s about what else they can continue to do to support the community that they’re there to serve,” said Jill Fink, executive director of TMF.
TMF has already awarded more than 50 grants this year compared to the 46 they awarded all of last year. At least 60% of grant recipients were immigrant or women-owned businesses and 97% were owned by BIPOC.
“We’re able to pay off our PGW bill, our PECO bill and we were able to pay our landlord money…” Adan said. “We’re not making as much revenue, although the donations are really helping from the facemasks, but we lost half of our business model.”’
When their business first began experiencing financial strain, Adan explored government support and loan options. Many either denied the pair, didn’t respond or had overly complicated applications or eligibility requirements.
Adan spoke recently with her husband about the uncertainty of what their business would look like a year from now because of COVID-19 — if they would ever be able to host musical sessions and art shows like they used to, welcoming in members of the community.
She laughed a little as she mulled over the idea of a virtual art show, noting she had a lot more thinking to do. One thing was certain, she said, she knows they don’t want to be a quintessential embroidery and silkscreen business.
“Something that brings people together still,” Adan said.-30-
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